The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 5, 2012

We all have a story to tell: Teller-in-Residence visits Johnson Elementary

From staff reports
The News Courier

— Storytelling is said to bring people together and cultivate creativity as well as inspire support and sustain communities.

Recently, thousands of students across Limestone County were part of the sixth annual Athens Storytelling Festival. 

This week, students at Johnson Elementary School got a related opportunity.

Third, fourth and fifth-graders were able to expand on what they were exposed to at festival by bringing storytelling into the classroom.

With $4,000 in funding, given to the school by State Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens, Johnson Elementary was the first school in North Alabama to host a Teller-in-Residence program with Sherry and Bobby Norfolk, both well-known festival storytellers from Atlanta.

During the past week, local students were given the opportunity to be guided by Sherry in the art of learning how to tell their stories in large groups, small groups and individually.

The information and activities provided during the weeklong program followed Alabama curriculum standards and allowed Sherry to engage students in the art by spending an hour a day in each classroom.

Bobby ended the week by performing stories specific to each grade level.

Johnson educators became interested in the Teller-in-Residence program when they learned teachers in others schools, who have used the Norfolks, reported that writing produced through storytelling is far superior to students’ usual efforts. Also, students’ scores are much higher on statewide standardized creative writing tests. More than that, they were told students were excited about their stories, proud of their results, and motivated to try again.

Johnson Elementary students couldn’t agree more.

Madey Simmons said she was encouraged by the Norfolks visit.

“I like how she puts her stories in an order and expresses her feelings through the voices while acting it out,” said fellow classmate Kalib Hainline.

“A great storyteller on so many levels,” added Nathan Reyer.

Other students like Bethany Pharr couldn’t get over how creative Sherry is and Violet Hall said she likes how she inspires students with her stories and helps them create their own.

“Mrs. Norfolk has been extraordinary in the classroom with students,” said fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Hodges. “I especially love the excitement she has inspired into the children’s writing. She has brought a love for writing back into the children. She feels me with excitement while listening to her stories. I love the look on the students’ faces while she engages them in her stories — it is priceless.”

During the program, Grayson Burgess had the opportunity to  write a personal “trickster story” with the rest of his fifth-grade classmates. Each got the opportunity to bring the stories to life using creative voices and expressions.

“This week has given me a new appreciation for writing and creating stories,” he said.  “I now enjoy making my stories come to life with creative characters and voices.”

Teachers at Johnson were just as excited about the Norfolks visit as the students.

Johnson librarian Nanci Spears said the Norfolks’ visit earned teachers five hours of professional development.

“It is the best professional development I’ve ever had on teaching writing,” said Nikki Magnusson, a third-grade teacher at Johnson. “It is so much more beneficial observing Mrs. Norfolk with the children than being with a presenter in a room full of adults.”